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Hockey India League suspended for 2018, survival doubtful

Hockey India claimed a busy international calendar in 2018 was the main reason for suspending the 2018 Hockey India League but the actual reason was that the franchises were bleeding money and were reluctant to continue in the present format

other sports Updated: Jul 25, 2017 22:48 IST
HT Correspondent
Owners of Delhi Waveriders (in green), Jaypee Punjab Warriors and Ranchi Rays (in red) have expressed their inability to continue  in the Hockey India League.
Owners of Delhi Waveriders (in green), Jaypee Punjab Warriors and Ranchi Rays (in red) have expressed their inability to continue in the Hockey India League.(Diwakar Prasad/ Hindustan Times)

Hockey India League, the only franchise-based domestic hockey league in the world, will not be held in 2018. Whether the league featuring six teams will return in a new avatar in 2019, as promised by its organisers Hockey India, depends on two major factors — a revamped financial model that would be attractive and beneficial for all stakeholders and the FIH’s Hockey Pro League, which is scheduled to be launched in January 2019.

In a statement, the sport’s national governing body claimed a busy international calendar in 2018 was the main reason for suspending the league but the actual reason was that the franchises were bleeding money and were reluctant to continue in the present format. According to sources, at least three franchises have complained of suffering huge losses annually and wanted to pull out. Owners of Delhi Waveriders, Jaypee Punjab Warriors and Ranchi Rays have expressed their inability to continue and Hockey India’s attempts to rope in replacements did not bear fruit.

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Conflict of dates

“Due to a conflict in dates of the 2018 League and major international tournaments, which was likely to restrict the participation of international players, it was decided that the best solution was to postpone the conduct of the sixth season of the League. The league will resume in 2019 with greater prospects to make it more viable financially not only for the stakeholders but also for the players,” Mohd Mushtaque Ahmad, HI secretary general and chairman of the HIL, said in the release on Tuesday.

Agreed that international calendar in 2018 is packed with Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup on schedule but the same was true in 2014 too when the second edition of the league was held successfully. In 2019, the Hockey Pro League, a nine-team home-and-away competition from which Hockey India has pulled out a few weeks back, will be held from January to June and the FIH-sanctioned window for HIL is between January and February. So, availability of international players will remain an issue.

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‘No financial constraint’

HI, however, denied financial constraint was the reason for the calling off the league. “None of the franchises have expressed their desire to back out due to funds. The decision was made after consultations with all stakeholders. The league has been very successful in terms of scouting talent and we will continue to organise in 2019 season,” RP Singh, spokesperson of HI, told HT.

Franchises owner though were reluctant to share the business model, but most said, it wasn’t productive from the start. “We were suffering huge financial losses, to the tune of R10 crore each year. In times of economic meltdown it wasn’t practical to continue,” said an official of a franchise on condition of anonymity.

HIL tried to chip in the 2017 season, but it was not much. “We were promised compensation but the amount was peanuts as compared to expenditure,” the official added.

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Franchise trouble

The HIL ran into trouble early in its life as two franchise owners --- Dubar India, owners of Mumbai Magicians, and Patel-PS Group and Uniexcel Group, owners of Ranchi Rhinos --- pulled out reportedly due to financial reasons. Though Hockey India managed to rope in two replacement owners, it halted their plans to expand the league to eight teams from the third edition.

The current development puts a question mark on the viability of a domestic league for hockey as the Premier Hockey League, the earlier official domestic league, too was shut down because of financial problems.

The players will be most affected by the decision but it is claimed that many of them have not got their full fee for the 2017 edition.